Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anti-Piracy measures: just imagine the stupidity

Only last year the new SpinIt washing machine was introduced for sale in the UK matched with the new WashIt soap powder, but it seems the Widget company have been having problems with hacking. Their spokesman explained -

"It was a revolutionary idea, we would synergise our new SpinIt product with the WashIt powder to provide a quality experience for the consumer. By incorporating a bar-code scanner into our SpinIt we could ensure that  the soap drawer simply wouldn't operate without swiping a WashIt box past it. Thus ensuring our product could calibrate load, water levels, and temperatures to give a perfect wash."

However is seems this synergy wasn't welcomed by a few of the purchasers of the machine who soon discovered ways to 'hack' the machine. We spoke to one 'hacker' who insisted on anonymity -

"At first it was fine we got really good results from using WashIt, but then the price went up and I mean really went up and soon we were noticing how much our income was being chipped away on soap powder. Then one day I accidentally swiped my old empty WashIt packet in front of the machine instead of the new one and the tray just opened. That's when the thought struck me - so long as I kept an old packet I could use whatever soap powder I liked"

Our informant wasn't the only one who discovered this and message boards across the country lit-up with consumers sharing this handy 'tip'. The Widget company tried to hit back stating that use of third-party soap powders was restricted under their EULA and that anyone found to be using one would have their warranty revoked. Sadly for the company this did little to stem the tide and work began on fixing the problem.

"The difficulty was in distinguishing between an old empty box of WashIt and a new box and as such we've introducing new time-stamped boxes. Each packet of New WashIt will feature a separate bar code that will be used to open the soap drawer along with an expiry date printed prominently at the bottom. This along with the mandatory update firmware update will ensure our consumers won't suffer from substandard cleaning"

When asked why 'hacking' consumers would download this latest patch the spokesman replied

"It'll just download in the background. Sure you can disconnect the machine, but that's pretty much admitting you're breaking our terms and conditions and we'll simply revoke your warranty automatically. Besides, the update comes with some additional features that our loyal customers will be sure to enjoy."


Orphi said...

If this sounds silly to you, go read about ink cartridges for printers.

Companies sell a printer for, say, 10% of the manufacture cost, and then charge you the other 90% in ink prices.

This rouse works because psychologically, people think of a printer as being “expensive”, while they consider ink to be “cheap”, and this psychological perception has little to do with real-world prices. Even if it's cheaper to buy a new printer rather than refill it, to most people this seems “wasteful” and extravagant. So most people will just buy new ink and not realise how badly they're being fleased.

Apparently coming up with an ink which is precisely the correct viscosity, opacity and absorbency that it works in the printer is less difficult than you'd imagine, because lots of other companies will offer to sell you a bottle of ink. Now you just need to find a way to get it into the cartridges.

Oh, but obviously then you'd just be buying a printer for 10% of its manufacture cost, which the manufacturer's wouldn't be especially happy about. So they're trying to stop you from being able to do this…

In other news: The cinema will charge you maybe £8 for a small bag of popcorn. But I found out the other day that the friendly Asian man in the corner shop can sell you 8 Kg of unpopped corn for a piffling 99p. And approximately 8g of corn makes a huge bag of popcorn. So 8 Kg = about 1,000 bags of corn. For 99p. Go compute the markup on that then. No wonder they try to prevent you bringing your own food…

FlipC said...

Yes I'm sure I've mentioned a friend who just buys a new printer when the ink runs out.

In terms of psychology, yes it's the focus on the 'main' event over the 'peripheral'. When you go to the cinema you there to watch a movie. If you have several cinemas to choose from the emphasis is placed on comparative ticket prices.

All other things being equal you might spend more at the cheaper cinema simply as they've bumped up the price of the peripherals to compensate. If you consider that like the printers they may be making a loss on the main event you can understand the restrictions they try to enforce.

Orphi said...

There are some who would have you believe that petrol stations sell petrol at a loss and make their money on all the other stuff they sell.

(Personally, I think this is nonesense. Huge numbers of people go to a petrol station and buy nothing but petrol. If the petrol was actually sold at a loss, these places would shut within weeks!)

I personally am of the opinion that selling printers at a less and then charging extortionate prices for ink constitutes severely misleading behaviour, and should probably be illegal. But hey, who am I?

FlipC said...

I agree with you on the petrol, if 'they' were right independent stations would have to sell at a much higher price than the chains and it would be impossible to find a station without an attached shop/garage subsidiary.

As for the printers, if they hid the price of the ink, the usage statistics or if you could only discover which ink products you needed only after purchase than yeah that would be a problem. Otherwise it's up to the consumer to check the costs.

Just to tie this into the political side this denotes a difference between 'factions'. You think it should be illegal to do this, I think it's fine provided all the information is easily available to the consumer. Hence my -7.85y and your -3.68y ;-)

Orphi said...

Well, it's like those 200-page licenses you agree to when you install software. Hey, I've just bought this shiny new graphics card. But in order to use it, I literally must install the manufacturer's graphics driver. And somewhere hidden away amid 200 pages of dense legalese that nobody can understand, it says that by using this software I agree to surrender my firstborn to the manufacturers as an unpaid slave.

…sounds good to me! :-D But other people I guess might not like that. But, let's face, it, who the hell reads this stuff?? You could be agreeing to anything! I personally think it's entirely unreasonable to expect people who aren't lawers to comprehend all the implications of a complex license agreement.

And, for that matter, you don't have to agree to any license to operate a camera or ride a bicycle, so why the **** do you have to agree to one in order to use a graphics card?

Similarly, I think selling a printer for vastly less than its production cost and hiding the price in the ink is highly deceptive. A printer is obviously drastically more expensive to make than some ink, and most people would reasonably expect the ink to be insignificant in price compared to the printer. Most people will look only at the price of the printer itself, because you wouldn't expect ink to be so outragously over-priced. And manufacturers are preying on this expectation, disleading people into thinking that a printer is cheaper than it really is. It's deception, plain and simple, and it shouldn't be allowed.

(We won't even go into the environmental impact of people routinely throwing away perfectly good printers just because of somebody's stupid financial decisions…)

And the way cartridge refill programs are going, it won't be long before they start making printers that just refuse to print, for no technical reason at all, until you pay more money.

FlipC said...

There's a licence agreement for the software that comes with your camera, and also a no liability waiver at the front.

Preying on expectations is not in itself illegal. Provided all the information is provided.

Yes it has an environmental impact, but it's not a stupid financial decision. For those who practice it they save money; for those who create it there's enough not doing it to keep it viable.

As for the cartridges well there was that case of the printers purposely using worse printing settings when detecting a non-original cartridge.

Orphi said...

I guess the point is, if you buy a quality printer, the cost is usually apportioned sensibly. It's only the printers that are trying to look ultra-cheap which are deceiving you. I guess you get what you pay for.

As an aside, Xerox make several printers which use solid ink. There's no cartridge to throw away, you just insert another block of wax into the printer. And you can visually see how much ink is left.

In honest truth, our Xerox Phaser 8200DP produces stunning colour saturation, but has disappointing spatial resolution. It's supposed to be better-than-laser quality, but actually it's more like a mediocre inkjet. Oh well!

FlipC said...

It's a case of what you want the printer for, if it's just knocking out a few letters and spreadsheets and the odd photograph a cheap inkjet is just fine. If that's the case why spend more on ink when you can just buy an upgraded version of the printer?